Dick Smith, legendary make-up artist known for his groundbreaking and iconic work on such films as The Godfather, Amadeus, Altered States, Taxi Driver and The Exorcist, has passed away at age 92.
Born in Larchmont, New York, in 1922, Richard Emerson Smith began his career in 1945 as NBC’s first staff make-up artist and by 1950 was the head of the make-up department, training his own staff of 25 budding artists. His self-taught talents quickly earned him several Emmy nominations and a win in 1967 for Mark Twain Tonight!
After 14 years with NBC where he pioneered techniques using foam latex, plastics and make-up tones for colour television, Smith then moved on to the big screen.
His technical innovations in films such as Little Big Man and The Godfather were initially seen by his peers as unorthodox, however, those techniques soon became industry standards which are still used to this day. Smith went on to create some of his most memorable work transforming young Linda Blair into a demon-possessed child and aging Max Von Sydow thirty-seven years in The Exorcist, along with the landmark full-body latex suits and fantastical effects in Altered States.
In 1984, Smith began offering training through his advanced make-up course and has mentored some of the biggest names in the industry, from Oscar winning make-up artists Stan Winston, Greg Cannom and Rick Baker (who’s first professional job was assistant to Smith on The Exorcist), to directors Guillermo del Toro and J. J. Abrams.
Smith was honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with a retrospective tribute in 2009, and two years later he became the first make-up artist to receive an Honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement at the Governor’s Awards (watch Linda Blair’s speech here, and Smith’s emotional acceptance here).
With an astonishing career spanning over 60 years, Dick Smith’s timeless body of work, passion and generosity has influenced many and will continue to inspire for generations to come.
Rest in peace, “The Godfather of Make-Up.”